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Chief stickhandles questions about defunding police during budget presentation

Barrie police are asking for $57.3 million in municipal funding this year, a 2.65% increase from 2020
2020-04-09 Kimberley Greenwood
Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood. Photo supplied

The dance around defunding Barrie police continued at Monday night’s virtual city council meeting.

Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood presented the 2021 police budget to council ahead of next week’s city operating and capital budget talks, which set property taxes and service levels in Barrie. 

City police are asking for $57.3 million in municipal funding this year, a 2.65 per cent or $391,458 increase from 2020.

Coun. Keenan Aylwin questioned why there needed to be any increase, given that Toronto police have not asked for more in their 2021 budget.

“The (Toronto police) chief said something along the lines of ‘we heard the community, we are committed to doing more with less’,” Aylwin said. “Why can’t the Barrie Police Service do the same?”

Greenwood pointed to a number of areas where city police are doing with less  starting with staffing. Barrie city police has 244 officers and 118 civilians whose salaries and benefits take up 95.7 per cent of the police budget.

“We are not increasing our complement; there will be no new hires for the Barrie Police Service in 2021,” she said. “Our HR (human resources) strategy… we anticipated that we would have four sworn members and five civilian members added to our complement (this year).

“And we are not filling all of the positions that will be vacant in 2021," Greenwood added. 

Police are also down nearly $1 million since 2019 in provincial grants, which include funding for court security and prisoner transfers.

In general terms, defunding the police means reallocating some policing costs toward mental health remedies, addiction treatment and social services while reframing the role of the police themselves — particularly in Black and Indigenous communities.

Greenwood said some things have to happen first to get to that point.

“I think we need to invest, as a community, in the social and health services infrastructure prior to us reducing a police budget. I think that immediate reductions are very simplistic,” she said. “We know that as a society, that we need to adequately support social and health services, which we know have been underfunded or have seen significant cuts to their budgets.

“We’re committed to work with government and our community partners on meeting the safety and well-being needs of those in our community, so we will continue to implement change, so we can realistically and responsibly look at reductions where necessary once the infrastructure is in place to fill those gaps," the chief added. 

Aylwin thanked Greenwood for her comprehensive answer, and for opening up the police budget process this year.

“I’m also really thankful that we are on the same page in terms of we need to be focusing on the root causes of crime,” he said. “We need more social service support, as you said, they’ve been underfunded, they’ve faced cuts and that’s harmed some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Greenwood has said police calls for service are roughly 20 per cent criminal and 80 per cent non-criminal, 60 per cent non-emergency and 40 per cent emergency.

In 2019, city police officers dealt with 74,000 occurrences, made 7,052 arrests and lodged 3,113 prisoners.

The salaries, benefits and overtime of Barrie police officers and civilians will cost almost $52.8 million this year, a 2.4 per cent increase from 2020. Salaries are 76 per cent of that total, benefits 23 per cent and overtime one per cent.

Police have a 2021 capital budget of almost $1.85 million  with 38 per cent for fleet (police vehicles), 24 per cent for information technology, 19 per cent for a radio system upgrade and radio equipment, 11 per cent for special equipment and eight per cent for body worn cameras. This began as a pilot project last year and has a 2021 budget of $140,000 to equip 140 front-line police officers.

The police facilities operating budget  for the Fairview Road headquarters, Bell Farm Road training centre and Maple Avenue downtown office  will be just more than $1 million this year.

Barrie’s homeowners face a 3.59 per cent property tax increase in 2021, or paying another $160 on a typical house assessed at $367,550, up from $4,454 in taxes last year. That increase would bring 2021’s taxes on that property to $4,614  of which $883 is for policing.

Couns. Gary Harvey and Natalie Harris both declared conflicts of interest for Barrie police's 2021 budget presentation.

Harvey is a York Regional Police officer and said he was complying with legislative requirements under section 17(3) of the Police Services Act.

Harris links her conflict to the Code of Conduct, an agreed-upon understanding by all members of Barrie city council about what standards they should meet in the individual conduct of their official duties.

“I have consulted with the integrity commissioner regarding my code obligations, including those that arise under (the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act),” she said. “Though I do not have a pecuniary (monetary) interest in the matter that requires me to abstain from voting on this matter, in accordance with my code obligations and upon advice of the integrity commissioner, I will not be participating or voting on this matter.”

On Tuesday, BarrieToday asked Harris to explain her conflict of interest regarding the Barrie Police Service's 2021 budget presentation.

“It’s a personal matter,” she said. “Sorry, I can’t say more.”